A Taos-based water conservation group has been waiting for the EPA to make a decision about a stormwater permit for over five years, while pollution coming from urban stormwater runoff in Los Alamos County, the group alleges, continues to threaten water quality standards. Amigos Bravos wants a final determination from the EPA in response to a petition it filed with the agency back in 2014. “It’s been 1,833 days since we petitioned,” Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos, said in an interview. “Under the regulations, they are supposed to respond within 180 days. So, we are close to two thousand days overdue.”
In June, the organization filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA over the failure to act.
New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary James Kenney and other members of the department’s staff held a public meeting July 8 to address fears that NMED would move the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) Oversight Bureau field office out of Los Alamos. The department held the meeting, the first of a series of public outreach events the department plans to hold this year throughout the state, in part to assuage public concerns around the future of the Oversight Bureau’s field office in Los Alamos.
In June, the department announced a proposal to move the field office to a Santa Fe location. The news was met with immediate backlash from LANL watchdog groups such as Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
Kenney, along with Resource Protection Division director Stephanie Stringer and Administrative Services Division director Michelle Desmond, explained some of the factors behind the contemplated move in a short presentation to audience members. “[There] was never the intent to decrease oversight, or lessen any compliance or enforcement [over LANL],” Stringer told audience members. “A lot of people [thought] when they heard we were moving off the hill, that it meant less oversight.
According to recent tests, Cannon Air Force Base’s public water system is safe. In response to the discovery of groundwater contamination last year, the state of New Mexico conducted follow-up testing this spring. Samples from two of the four wells currently supplying drinking water tested by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) did contain polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. That includes samples from the Turquoise Estates drinking water system. But the levels are below the federal health advisory.
months, Clovis dairy farmer Art Schaap has been watching his life go
down the drain. Instead of selling milk, he is dumping 15,000 gallons
a day – enough to provide a carton at lunch to 240,000 children. Instead of working 24/7 to keep his animals healthy, he’s planning
to exterminate all 4,000 of his cows, one of the best herds in Curry
County’s booming dairy industry. The 54-year-old second-generation dairy farmer learned last August that his water, his land, his crops – even the blood in his body – were contaminated with chemicals that migrated to his property from nearby Cannon Air Force Base. See all of NM Political Report’s coverage on PFAS contamination.
The groundwater below Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo tested positive for hazardous chemicals—and the contamination levels are more than 18,000 times higher than what the federal government says is safe.
A November 2018 site inspection report provided to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and obtained by NM Political Report this week, details the contamination. Currently, the state is trying to understand the extent of the problem and what might be done. According to the report, in 2016, the U.S. Air Force identified 31 potential release sites at Holloman. Two years later, in 2018, contractors tested five areas to determine if PFAS were present in soil, sediment, ground or surface water.
On Monday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced more executive appointments, including James Kenney as Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department. The next day, Kenney sat down with NM Political Report to talk about his vision for the agency. Though he hadn’t officially started the job yet, the secretary-designate wanted to set a tone of transparency, which he expects to be “ubiquitous” throughout state agencies under Lujan Grisham. Having a more transparent website and a social media presence, he said, will also help people “feel confident that their environment is healthy, that their community is robust, and … that NMED is out there doing its job, and that we’re proud to implement our mission.”
Related: Q&A with NM’s incoming energy secretary
NMED doesn’t exist within a vacuum, he said, and the department will work closely with other state agencies, tribes, communities and nonprofits. “I think being a cabinet secretary means that you use your ears more than your mouth,” Kenney said.
The state of New Mexico says the U.S. Air Force needs to immediately develop a plan to protect dairies from chemicals at Cannon Air Force Base. The New Mexico Environment Department announced today that Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis is violating the state’s Water Quality Act and related ground and surface water regulations. The state agency issued a Notice of Violation, which requires the Air Force to create a plan to protect local dairies from contamination in the short-term and also evaluate the possibility of installing systems to treat contaminated water supplies. If the military fails to comply, New Mexico can issue civil penalties of up to $15,000 per day for each violation. Chemicals from fire fighting training activities have been found in the groundwater below Cannon, and in groundwater wells off-base.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of New Mexico released a draft report on Friday about the possibility of someday reusing or recycling wastewater from the oil and gas industry. According to the draft white paper compiled by the EPA and three state agencies, “Given that drought is no stranger to New Mexico, decisions about water are growing ever more complicated and meaningful.”
This summer, the EPA and three New Mexico agencies convened a working group to understand and clarify existing regulatory and permitting frameworks and create a road map toward finding other uses for wastewater generated by oil and gas drilling. The draft report lays out various possible reuse scenarios, explains which agencies would be involved in permitting and regulations and parses some of the legal issues. As the authors note, New Mexico became the third-largest oil producing state in the U.S. in 2018 and the industry produces enormous quantities of wastewater. According to the report:
For every barrel of oil, four or five barrels of produced water may be generated: an estimated 168 to 210 gallons of produced water for every 42 gallons of oil produced.
As state agencies move forward with plans to study reusing wastewater from oil and gas drilling, some environmental and community groups want the administration to slow down. They’re concerned about the working group’s quick schedule and lack of transparency thus far on an issue they say demands careful study. This summer, New Mexico signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and formed a working group to figure out how wastewater might be reused within the oilfield itself—and someday, beyond it. As we reported last month, the state initiated the process with the EPA. Following the publication of that story, representatives from more than 15 environmental and community groups signed onto a letter to the EPA which said the agreement between the federal agency and the state violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and requesting the federal agency withdraw.
When drilling wells, operators inject chemicals, sand and water underground to create fissures that help move oil and natural gas to the wellhead more efficiently. That practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses a lot of water. And it leaves behind a lot of water, too. In 2015, even before the Permian Basin really started booming, industry produced 900 million barrels of wastewater. That’s about 116,000 acre feet—or almost all of the water currently stored in Elephant Butte Reservoir.